Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 12.17.23

Ron DeSantis' super PAC may have promised to 'never back down,' but the organization appears to be falling down face first off a cliff.

Many of those reading this are breathing a sigh of relief this weekend. You’ve finally hit the end-of-the-year holiday season with days off a-plenty, letting you relax and close out the year celebrating with friends and family.

But while most of us are using this time to take a break after a taxing year — and ahead of the most stress-inducing presidential race of our lifetimes — state Sen. Jason Pizzo is continuing to put hid head down and serve, traveling to Israel this week to meet with the families of hostages and help survey the aftermath of the horrific Oct. 7 attack.

Pizzo, the next leader of the Senate Democrats, has stood out as a whip-smart member of the caucus and a stellar communicator of the Democrats’ messaging, both in the political realm and during committee hearings in the Capitol. He’s been pegged as a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate down the line for those reasons.

But Pizzo has also shown a willingness to do the hard work as a servant leader, perhaps most notable during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he put in overtime trying to get unemployment assistance for his constituents and other residents statewide as the state’s system melted down.

He showed it again this week traveling to Israel at a time when most of us are trying to tune out tragedy and enjoy some peace and quiet at home.

Pizzo paid homage to the victims of the Oct. 7 attack, while also facing some danger of his own. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made clear that Florida stands in solidarity with Israel. Pizzo’s trip is also making it clear that support is bipartisan, and shows Democrats have a strong leader ready to take the reins after next year’s elections.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Holiday movies. We’re going to keep this section holiday-themed (‘this the season, after all). For those of us who are looking to curl up on the couch for a movie marathon, there are plenty of Christmas favorites to choose from.

For families with young kids, “Elf” and “Home Alone” will do the trick. “A Christmas Story” is a hit for all ages, and for those of you getting dragged into watching a romantic comedy for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than “Love Actually.” And of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is still one of the best all-around classics to pick.

But no matter your preferred Christmas flick (or whether you think “Die Hard” is or is not a Christmas movie), you’ve got until tomorrow to crank up the VCR DVD player Amazon fire stick and get those classics rolling, so don’t miss out!

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Christmas lights. Rolling around with the family and checking out all of the amazing light displays is a tradition that never gets old.

Florida is home to some of the best displays in the country, and every region has highlights to choose from.

Those displays often run through the end of the year. So if you haven’t gotten your fix, there’s still time!

The biggest winner: Peace and goodwill for all. Finally, before we get into the next section full of roasting, sans chestnuts, we want to wish all of our readers a peaceful and happy end of the year.

There has been a lot of trauma this year, especially worldwide given the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel. Domestically, our political climate is on edge, with some of the most divisive voices continuously amplified.

And most of it is a game, done to manipulate your own emotions and drive engagement. To demonstrate that, let’s step away from politics and look at, say, plane crashes. Every time there’s a plane crash, it makes the news. It drives up fear. But in reality, air travel is easily the safest method of travel.

Of course, it’s worrying to see those stories. But most of us still hop on a plane. We don’t let it derail our behavior and alter our entire worldview.

Those who do and who have an irrational fear of flying are seen as, well, irrational. They’ve driven themselves into a state of fear over something that is likely never to affect them. We all recognize it, and even they often recognize it, but are too gripped with fear to overcome it.

Well, friends, that’s also the story for a large chunk of the news you’re consuming. Many of these panics over social issues get highlighted because one idiot teacher/boss/politician did or said something stupid. The media grabs it, blows it out of proportion and makes it seem like it’s the norm.

For far too many of us, we are indeed letting those examples drive us into paranoia, derail our behavior and alter our entire worldview. And those peddling these scare stories are raking in the dough off of your views and clicks.

Just like those with an irrational fear of flying, you’re doing no favors for yourself by buying into this content loop of doom. The only people you’re helping are those peddling this stuff to manipulate you and hold onto their own authority.

So we here are wishing for everyone to take a breath and realize that politics and the latest culture war battle do not need to be all-consuming. Spend time in the real world with friends and family and do your best to bring joy to those around you. Get away from the clickbait, and hop on that next plane. Happy holidays, everyone.


Dishonorable mention: Small-town governments. Form 6, a new requirement that local officials disclose more of their financial information, is leading to a slate of resignations throughout the state, hampering small-town governments in the process.

The increased disclosure requirements have already prompted a majority of the St. Pete Beach City Council and North Palm Beach Council to step away by the end of the year. Several others in Pasco and Pinellas are leaving as well. Naples Vice Mayor Mike McCabe is also calling it quits, while a Naples City Council member has also threatened to leave.

“I’m very disappointed, quite frankly. It’s not something that I wanted to do,” St. Pete Beach Vice Mayor Mark Grill said. “I believe it’s (an) invasion of privacy, and a bigger concern, I believe this overreach by state government is an attack on our home rule; at the local level, the state tries to preempt us from running our city how we see best.”

The new reporting standards go into effect on Jan. 1, mandating that local officials report their full net worth and any assets or liabilities over $1,000. Some officials have predicted up to 40% of small-town officials could resign in total.

To be clear, we aren’t blaming these officials here, but rather noting the detrimental effect the new disclosure rules, approved by lawmakers in Tallahassee, are having on the functioning of small-town governments.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Moms for Liberty. The conservative group is feeling significant collateral damage from the fallout of sexual abuse allegations against (soon-to-be former) Republican Party of Florida Chair Christian Ziegler.

As we’ve said during weeks of coverage surrounding those allegations, we don’t yet know whether any criminal charges will be filed or whether the evidence behind that allegation will hold up. But what we do know is that Christian Ziegler and his wife, Bridget, while professing to be militant culture warriors against the LGBTQ agenda, has previously engaged in a consensual threesome with the woman now making the allegation.

Then, news broke Friday that police had recovered a different sex tape involving Bridget Ziegler and a woman.

Bridget Ziegler is a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, and perhaps the most well-known. Though she is no longer part of the organization, the hypocrisy of her public and private actions is still causing headaches for Moms for Liberty.

A New York Times report focused on the group’s waning influence, though not all of that is attributed to the latest scandal. A majority of the School Board candidates the group supported in contested races in 2023 lost. As the group’s crusade against COVID-19 restrictions in schools became less relevant, its new goals focusing on purported inappropriate content may not be as much of a winning message.

And Bridget Ziegler’s shenanigans sure aren’t helping.

Two important points here: As we’ve said before, what a couple does in private is their own business. But when you are so adamant about ridding schools of LGBTQ content and then are having a threesome with your husband, the hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

And as we have also explained, there is a legitimate discussion to be had surrounding LGBTQ issues that the Left seems unwilling to have. Debating whether children should undergo hormone treatment or pushing for sexual content to be kept out of elementary and middle schools is not inherently bigoted.

But the militancy with which Bridget Ziegler and Moms for Liberty pushed these issues, and the degree to which they overexaggerated their existence to gin up anger with the GOP voting base, does not lead to much sympathy when things come crashing down.

The biggest loser: Never Back Down. DeSantis’ main super PAC may “never back down,” but it’s certainly falling apart.

News broke about the PAC’s further collapse last weekend, leading to only a cursory mention in last week’s column. But we wanted to use this space to properly denote what a complete and utter embarrassment this organization has been as part of the Governor’s broader campaign strategy.

The Washington Post published a detailed piece recounting the months of disagreements and dysfunction which led to the current point of DeSantis becoming more and more of an afterthought in the GOP Primary. Shortly after that report was published, Never Back Down’s chief strategist Jeff Roe resigned.

The big picture here is this: During his 2022 re-election run, everyone knew DeSantis was going to run for President, even though he didn’t officially declare until the middle of 2023. So DeSantis raised tens of millions more dollars than he would ever need to beat Charlie Crist.

That giant vault of money could not, however, be legally transferred directly into a DeSantis presidential campaign account. Thus, Never Back Down was born, absorbing a boatload of cash and installed with Team DeSantis-picked staff to help run the ship (though with no coordination on spending of course, *wink*).

To say the organization may as well have lit that money on fire is an understatement, because in late 2022, DeSantis was polling competitively with Donald Trump. Now? Not so much. Never Back Down’s strategy didn’t fail to move the needle, it broke the needle off and threw it into the recesses of the earth.

So Roe is gone, as are several other high-level Never Back Down staffers following months of turmoil. Make no mistake, this was Roe’s show given that previous staff changeover had led to him installing even more loyalists into the PAC. We even named him a winner of the week once for gaining such significant control over the organization.

But as the weeks passed, it became more and more clear Roe didn’t have the juice to turn DeSantis’ fortunes around. Now, as of this Friday, the organization is canceling its 2024 Iowa and New Hampshire reservations in droves. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this super PAC will serve as a historical model of what not to do when mounting a bid for President.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn